by Rayola Kelley
This month we will be celebrating Christmas. As we remember the events that ushered in what we consider to be the first Christmas over twenty centuries ago, we are reminded of four types of responses to the message that the Promised One of God, the Savior was born in Bethlehem. Although I have written about these four responses in the past, it is always a good practice to once again be reminded of them during this time of the year.
The first response towards the birth of the Savior was the innkeeper (Luke 2:7). He was not looking for the Messiah; rather, he was caught up with worldly activities; therefore, he was unprepared to receive the gift and become part of the miracle. Although his name remains unknown to the world, his response serves as an example of what happens when a person is full of the world and caught up with its events: he or she will be caught unprepared for the day of the Lord’s visitation.
The second response came from the lowly shepherds. They witnessed the heavens open, and heard the glorious proclamations of the birth of a Savior in Bethlehem, along with the angelic host praising God (Luke 2:8-18). These men followed the angel’s instruction and found the Promised One lying in a manger. There they worshipped Him. These insignificant shepherds remind us of who the Lord often chooses to use. He often looks for the outcasts, downtrodden, and unlikely, for they have nothing to lose and everything to gain (1 Corinthians 1:25-29). They are the ones most likely to hear His call and properly respond in humility and meekness with an attitude of worship and a readiness to serve Him.
The third response is represented by Herod (Matthew 2:1-7, 15-21). He represents those who become jealous of the Promised One. Such jealousy produces tyrants. Tyrants have no desire to give way to heavenly rule. They will try to destroy any sign of opposition that will challenge their fragile position and authority. Herod destroyed the innocent lives of many to maintain a worldly reign that was temporary and destined to end upon his death. There is no indication that he repented of his murderous tyranny, and if so, he woke up in the tormenting bowels of hell.
The fourth response came from the wise men (Matthew 2:1-12). They came in search of the King of Israel, bearing gifts worthy of royalty. We can see in the first scenario of the innkeeper that the reality of the gift of God was hidden from him by the swirl of worldly ways. In the case of the shepherds, heaven parted and the light of the message of hope penetrated through the darkness of the night to bring hope to their souls. In the third response the light highlighted the prophecy as to where the King of Israel would be born, but God hid His Son from the destructive reach of the tyrant (Matthew 2:12-14, 21).
In the final response, the wise men were given a compass of a star in the sky to guide them to the King of Israel. For two years they followed the heavenly compass God provided for them. Their compass never wavered from the path and they never vacillated from their mission. Once again the four responses bring a clear contrast. The innkeeper failed to see the opportunity at hand to become part of something of eternal value, but the shepherds saw the Promise of God and walked away rejoicing, while Herod missed Him altogether and left a legacy of wickedness and failure. However, in their odyssey the wise men found Him. The truth is we need to find Jesus, but we must be willing to search for Him, as well as possess the right compass to guide us to Him.
Last month I talked about the need to not only have in hand our spiritual map (God’s Word), but that it is vital as believers to acquire the ability to read it and follow its instructions. This spiritual map will show us where we are at in our journey, but we also need to know which direction we are to walk in to ensure that we arrive at the right destination.
The one instrument that shows us the direction we are facing or walking in is a compass. Recently I learned some interesting facts about compasses that I did not previous possess. Granted, I know that a compass allows one to know the direction he or she is heading, but what I learned is that a compass is useless unless you know where you are. Admittedly, I should have known this, but I never thought about what it takes to use a compass properly.
To be able to go in the right direction, you have to know your present location. Location is everything because it will tell you what direction, north, south, west, or east you are from your desired destination. If you chose to go north, when in fact your destination is south of you, you will become lost as you go in the wrong direction. It is for this reason people who are heading in the wrong spiritual direction need to stop and repent in order to become pointed in the right direction.
As I listened to the explanation of how to properly use a compass, I realized that those teaching on the subject started their pupils from a place they were already familiar with, and would give them another location they were acquainted with so they could discover the direction they were walking in, thereby, learning how to properly use the compass.
As I thought about the practical logic in using a compass, I began to relate it to how our spiritual compass works. Granted, God’s Word helps us figure out our location. It gives us road signs and instructions as to what to watch for to avoid detours. However, our compass will show us the direction we are walking in or we need to walk in once we understand where we are in our spiritual journey.
For the wise men they had traveled in the direction of the star. They did not know exactly where they were going, but they knew the star would lead them to the right place. They knew they could not lose sight of their compass or they would become lost and their ultimate destination would also become lost to them. What is interesting is that when they stopped for directions to inquire about their destination, God’s Word was consulted, and the prophecy in Micah 5:2 revealed to them that their desired destination was Bethlehem.
This brings me to the identity of our compass: it is the Holy Spirit. The Bible tells us we must walk after the Spirit (Romans 8:1). This means we must be quick to allow Him to guide us in the way we are to walk. Like the children of Israel, they followed the pillar of cloud by day and rested in the light of a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22). They did not move unless the cloud moved. Here we have a beautiful example of what it means to follow after the Holy Spirit.
And, where will the Spirit lead us: into all truth (John 16:13). The truths of God will never lead us astray. They stand as reliable boundaries that will keep us in the straight and narrow ways of righteousness. We know that the Holy Spirit inspired God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21). He was the ink that wrote the truths upon the hearts and minds of people so they could walk in them (2 Corinthians 3:3; Hebrews 8:10). It is for this reason that we must consult the Word first to see if we are where we need to be to ensure the integrity and success of our walk. It is from a reliable location that we can be assured that our heavenly Guide will reveal the way in which we are to walk.
The Bible also states that once we learn what it means to walk after the Spirit that we will begin to be led by the Spirit (Romans 8:14-17). The Spirit initially must lead us into all truth so that we can understand what it means to be an adopted child of God. Without the discipline of being led into a greater life in Christ, we will not be able to discern where we are in our standing before the Lord. After all, if we are being led by the Spirit, the signs we will read along the narrow way will point to being righteous (in right standing with God through redemption), acquiring and growing in God’s love (being compelled by the right motive) and finding His peace (walking in a right state because of faith and reconciliation).
Once we develop the discipline that comes out of being led by the Spirit, we will discover what it means to walk, or live, in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-17). Those who understand the Spirit-filled life realize that it is experienced once they learn what it means to live in the flow of the Spirit. To live in the flow of the Spirit means one is putting off the old besetting ways and giving way to the new in order to walk in His will, and reach the high calling of Christ Jesus.
To walk after the Spirit puts you in the living Waters to be cleansed and sanctified. To be led by the Spirit puts you in the current to be established and prepared for the next state: to walk or live in the Spirit. To live in the Spirit means to be in the flow of the current. The differences between being in the current and flow of the Spirit, is that we can find ourselves fighting against the current when fast waters of fear overtake us or the dams of self and uncertainty threaten to stop our progress; but, when one is in the flow of the Spirit, he or she will be taken on a ride. In other words, there is no conflict from the flesh trying to take over, no obstacles from the world trying to take hold, and no present cares consuming one’s attention. In the consuming flow of the Spirit such things become dim in light of the glorious revelation or work of the Spirit that is taking place. His work will always bring us in line with the will of God.
When I think about the percentage of time that I truly live in the Spirit, I have to admit that it is not very high. In my mind there is no greater place to be than living in the Spirit, but I also live in the flesh, walk in the world, and become burdened down with the demands of life. At times I battle bouts of utter defeat when I realize that the lusts of the “old man” have managed to climb on top of my “new man”. Occasionally, I have been slow in recognizing it, but when I pay attention to the signs, I realize they are putting up red flags. These signs can read, “lousy attitude”, “snippy mannerisms”, “impatient ways”, “complacent reaction,” and so forth.
When I realize that the old man has been resurrected and standing on the pinnacle of foolishness, I have to kick the props of ridiculousness from beneath him and wrestle his members to the mat so that I can drag him to the cross where he is once again nailed (1 Corinthians 9:21-27). At times the struggles to bring the “old man” to his proper place and keep him there have been intense. The “old man” is a whiner. He is always crying foul, and declaring that it is so unfair. Or, he plays dead so that he does not have to face the inevitable. At times he even tries to con me that he is changed, rehabilitated, and that I am being unloving and fanatical. Regardless of his ploys, the “old man” is a coward and is the enemy of that which has been ordained righteous for my life.
Once the “old man” is nailed to the cross, I am then able to repent of giving way to the “old man” and refocus on the Lord and begin to follow after the Spirit, or I should say follow after what I know is right. This allows me to once again get into the current of the Spirit.
Confronting the influence of the world is a little different. When I get caught up with the world, it takes me out of the current of the Spirit and puts me in another current. The current of the world is fast moving. It holds many rapids of sensationalism and provides the lusts of the “old man” with “surf boards” or “water skis” of false promises. It declares it will lead one to great happiness and satisfaction.
The problem with riding the rapids of the world is, it is hard to see the warning signs that have been posted along the way about the impending dangers ahead. Since the world is temporary, there are many shallow parts that will cause one to hazardously hit the ground of reality going at fast speeds. There are signs of dangerous rapids that are impossible to maneuver that will leave one spiritually shipwrecked. There are warnings of waterfalls that will consume the person and entangle him or her in whirlpools that speak of loss and destruction. There are signs warning of sharp turns, limited visibility, and fast descent that speak of blindness, unexpected experiences, and ignorance that will produce nightmarish results.
It is easy to find yourself in the current of the world. However, the world is at odds with God and will keep you from realizing the excellent calling of Christ Jesus in your life (James 4:4). It is a detour from what is best. For this reason, the quicker you recognize it and look for that immovable Rock in order to get your footing, the easier it is to get out of the current’s momentum. Keep in mind, no matter how fast the currents of the world are, the Lord has provided the Rock which you can reach for and cling to.
Once I get my footing on the Rock I then must repent of allowing myself to get caught up in the wrong current. It is from this position that I can now choose to get in the right current of the Spirit. This entails exposing myself to the things of God. I have to get into His Word, desire His perspective, ask His Spirit to reveal my moral flaws that subject me to the contrary current of the world, and once again consecrate my whole life to the Lord.
I am thankful that God has provided me with such an efficient compass. The Holy Spirit will never be found to be wrong. He will always lead me to a life that will reflect Christ and bring glory to God.
As we embark on this Christmas celebration, we need to make sure that we are correctly reading our spiritual map and following the direction that the Holy Spirit is leading. This Christmas let us be like the wise men and bring gifts worthy of our Lord. They brought gold which reminds us that God was very much a part of providing the ultimate gift of His Son. Clothed in humanity, deity had been miraculously veiled in the baby born in a manger. The myrrh was highly valued and was used as one of the ingredients in the anointing oil used in the tabernacle. It reminds us that anointing flows from above in the person of the Holy Spirit. The frankincense was used in the holy perfume used in the tabernacle. It was a preferred fragrance. We are reminded that it is the life of Christ in us that serves as a preferred fragrance to God, a point of edification to believers, and a mirror of contrast to the unsaved.
However, in order to present such a fragrance to God, we need to be anointed by the Holy Spirit from above, and maintain a correct understanding of Jesus Christ, an understanding that will cause us to walk as He walked. And, to reciprocate by giving His Son back to the Father in this way would surely be the most acceptable and pleasing gift we could offer Him.
Have a Merry Christmas.